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Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Crib Notes on Health Care Platforms for Clinton, Obama, and McCain

Leading Presidential Candidates-Clinton, McCain, Obama
Proposals for Health Care Reform

This week’s column analyzes the leading presidential candidates Senators Hillary Clinton, Barak Obama, and John McCain proposals on health care reforms and how their ideas would address these five questions:
1. Access to Care
2. Optimization of Government Purchasing for Medicare and other Programs
3. Reimbursement Alignment for Desired Clinical Outcomes
4. Streamlining the Health Care System Administratively
5. Financing Health Care for all

Access to Care
The three questions that must be addressed in order to answer the access question are:
Do the proposed changes provide health care coverage for all residents, or at least a close approximation of that?
Secondly, do their proposals address adequacy of reimbursements for health care clinicians and facilities?
Thirdly, are there enough clinicians to meet the increased demand for primary care and other services from changes in health care access and if not, what is being proposed by the candidate?
Mandate for Universal Health Coverage
Yes, for Clinton and to a lesser extent, Obama, and no for McCain in mandating health coverage. Clinton would require every resident to have health insurance coverage and require large employers to provide employee health care or contribute to the cost for it. Obama would require employers to offer meaningful coverage or contribute to the cost of the public health plan.
Expand SCHIP, Children’s Insurance under Medicaid
Yes for Clinton and Obama, no for McCain.
Create a National Public Health Plan
Obama would create a National Health Insurance Exchange for small businesses and individuals without access to other public programs, to offer health insurance through private plans or the new public plan. Clinton would offer a similar health choice menu for public or private plan enrollment. McCain would not do either.
Reimbursement Reforms impacting Access
McCain’s position to reimburse Medicare and presumably Medicaid on a single fee for coordinated care, could help increase access to more pediatricians and other primary care providers.
Nursing Pipeline to Assure Adequate Supply
Clinton and Obama propose an increase in federal funding for training more nurses. Obama also proposes improvements in reimbursements, training grants, and loans for health care professionals.

Optimization of Government Health Care Programs
McCain’s List for improving existing government programs
1. Adopt malpractice reforms
2. Strengthen health care anti-trust laws
3. Improve transparency in pharmacy pricing
4. Change health insurance marketing from state to national oversight
5. Support public health initiatives for chronic disease prevention, health education, and reductions in obesity, diabetes, and smoking.
Clinton’s list for improving existing government programs
1. Permit the federal government to negotiate RX prices for Medicare directly with drug manufacturers
2. Change patent laws to increase the availability of generic drugs
3. Limit pharmaceutical advertising to consumers
4. Encourage disclosure of medical errors with liability protection for physicians
5. Support more federal funding for reducing health disparities and developing quality measures
6. Strengthen consumer protections for long-term care
Obama’s list for improving existing government programs includes
1. Promotion of generic drug programs
2. Allowing importation of drugs from other countries
3. Direct negotiations with drug companies for the Medicare program
4. Reform malpractice
5. Strengthen anti-trust laws in health care
6. Creation of an independent institution for review of medical errors, to establish quality standards, and create measures.

Reimbursement; Paying for Desired Clinical Outcomes
McCain’s List
1. Change clinician reimbursements to a single coordinated payment for care, rather than fee for service
2. Bar payment for preventable medical errors or mismanagement by health care providers
3. Provide Medicare payments for patient care coordination and prevention
Clinton’s List
1. Provide federal recognition for physician driven certification for best practices and incentivize quality through an increase in federal reimbursements for Medicare
2. Would not pay for preventable infections and other medical errors
3. Reduce reimbursements on the Medicare Advantage Plan to the equivalent of Medicare, which is considered inadequate compensation by many physician groups
Obama’s List
1. Reduce Medicare Advantage Plan reimbursement to the same level as Medicare, which could impare access to primary care.
2. Creation of a new public health plan, similar to the federal employee’s health plan, which could be expensive.
3. Obama does not specify how he would reward clinicians for chronic disease management or other health care goals.

Streamlining Health Care Administratively
McCain’s List

1. Creation of a uniform electronic medical records standard
2. Advocates national standards for insurance regulation, not state
3. Encourage alternate forms of access and licensing for providers
4. Establish national standards for measuring health outcomes
Clinton’s List
1. Require all private insurance carriers to offer coverage on a guaranteed issue and renewable basis, creating one national standard
2. Move to establish community rates, rather than variations based on health and other factors
3. Require private insurers to meet minimum loss ratios, which means a high value of every dollar collected would have to go for consumer benefits
4. Require coverage for preventive care
5. Encourage regional purchasing cooperatives, where states can band together for optimal purchasing and stabilization of health care financing
6. Establish national standards for prevention of health disparities, technology for electronic medical records, chronic care management, best practices, and medical error disclosure
Obama’s List
1. Create a National Health Insurance Exchange for residents to obtain coverage through private or public health plans.
2. Require health insurance coverage to be guaranteed issue and that the plans meet standards for benefits and quality.
3. Maintain existing state health care reforms if they meet the minimum standards for the national health plan.
4. Creation of an independent quality institute for health care, to analyze data, and promote ways to minimize health chronic disease
5. Promote new models for addressing physician errors along with reforming malpractice laws

Financing New Health Care Ideas
One of the key components of any health care reform is the financing. Presently health care is provided through the FICA Medicare tax, which is matched by employee and employer, state taxes for Medicaid, general funds from the U.S. government, employer contributions, and individual contributions. In a later issue, I will review how all of these stack up, but for now, here is a summary of the top three candidate’s ideas for financing health care reforms.
Senator McCain
1. Finance health care expansions by reforming the tax code, including eliminating tax preferences for employer paid health benefits
2.Allowing individuals to purchase multi-year health care contracts through Health Services Accounts (medical savings accounts)
3. Advocates a tax credit for individuals and incentives to obtain insurance coverage
4. Contain costs through changes in provider reimbursements, tort reform, and quality improvements
5. Senator McCain did not have a budget posted for his reforms as of January.
Senator Clinton
1. Require individuals who earn more to pay more for a national health care program
2. Tax subsidy to help families obtain health insurance
3. Would not phase out employer provided health plans, but would require large employers to provide health care
4. Senator Clinton estimates her reform package would cost a 110 billion a year after it is fully implemented, but has identified 21 billion saved by the reduction of uninsured and existing Medicaid payments to hospitals. She has identified another 54 billion in revenue recapture by limiting the employer paid health insurance tax exclusion and limiting the tax cuts for individuals with incomes over 250,000.
Senator Obama
1. Expand federal programs and create the National Health Insurance Exchange
2. If employers do not offer health care to employers, they would be required to contribute to the cost of the federal option for their employees
3. Obama’s annual estimate for the cost of his health plan reforms is 65 billion, which is half of Clinton’s. This seems grossly unrealistic when you consider that just covering the 46 million people who are uninsured, at the cost of the average private employer plan of $4,479 per year would equal 206 billion.

In conclusion, of the three candidates, Hillary Clinton has been the most explicit and realistic in terms of what her health care proposal would cost, initially, and ultimately.
Since the financing of health care reforms is very complicated, the next posting at will review various budgets for the proposals. All reference material for candidate positions was gleaned from the Kaiser Family Foundation web site at:

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